Balloons are often used as metaphor... But what about putting them to use as a tool for gathering information? I love maps and balloons are pretty cool too, so the combination for data collection gets me a bit excited... Is it a match made in geo-heaven? To what situations could this technology be applied? What were the barriers to entry? How good were the results? I had to see for myself. So a Greyhound ride and a Septa token later, I'm standing with 20 other geospatial enthusiasts staring into the sky at a large orange balloon on Philadelphia's Penn's Landing Waterfront. As we all watched, a volunteer walked the balloon along the waterfront and collected data as she went, the camera clicking every 2 seconds. The group patiently listened to stories of balloon mapping, but the real interest was piqued when we prepared a 2nd balloon about 30 min later. That's when I got a closer look at the rig: it consisted of a large spool of kite string, a carabiner, a large balloon (filled with helium), a juice bottle lid and pieces for a 'tail', rubberbands, and a small camera (any will do!).
After about 2 hours outside collecting imagery, we reconvened at the Philadelphia School District computer lab to stitch the photos together in Mapknitter and learn how to construct our own camera rigs. We watched a video tutorial on how to import images and piece them together - my first reaction was that imagery post processing requires P A T I E N C E. It also requires a base image to match your tiles which could be a problem in some regions. But, the pros are you control the timing and intervals of the imagery, you do the editing, the data is open and shareable, there is a relatively low cost of entry, and the software is continually seeing improvement. Mapknitter is currently being enhanced to allow for geotagged imagery that will get the editor close, but manual manipulation will still be required. Another option is to use ArcGIS or QGIS to georeference your imagery but is there a good place to upload the imagery once you've finished? What repositories exist? If you have suggestions - please comment!
Then the tape, juice bottles, and scissors came out and we got to work on our own rigs. I had brought a camera, so with help, I was able to construct a little rig for it (see left - Hornelius wanted a ride). We then had a trial run in the atrium down a zip line - a great way to get everyone involved! My video was shakey, but that's why we do a dry run, right?
Balloon mapping is a fun, non-threatening way to collect data and introduce aerial surveillance to small groups. UAVs are starting to take off as a more controlled way to collect imagery, but the word 'drone' doesn't quite have the same effect as 'balloon'! Verdict? I had a really fun day with a great group of people. I had to miss the follow up happy hour, but I'll definitely be back to visit another time. Thanks Philly ~ You have a great group of people up there and I'd love to host you in Baltimore some time!
****Get your own kit at the Public Laboratory website for $95 - helium not included!****
Last week I sat through my very first Python class at Betamore. In the past, I have only 'pinged' my computer with the help of an IT specialist, and have serious fear of white letters blinking against a black screen.... So it wasn't to surprising that within the first 5 minutes my throat began constricting and my heart rate was rising.... I wanted to run away.... Along with that, my hand went up with such frequency that I finally just left it there. The instructor was likely exasperated. After a few deep breaths, I decided to just push through the class and save questions for the end. Three hours later, I had some idea of how great Python could be (which is why I had taken the class in the first place), but I still had no clue how to start.
I set out this week with new resolve and found a few resources that I'm going to try. The Coursera class through Rice U. will take the next 7-9 weeks and I'll supplement with Code Academy & Python Monk.
When I'm finished with that, I'll try to apply my glorious new Python skills to GIS. Some other free resources:
ESRI - Using Python in ArcGIS 10.1
Penn State online course
We'll see how this goes... wish me luck!
Last night I had the opportunity to present at the monthly meetup of Tech and Social Change here in Baltimore. It was a great group that really lives up to the description... "Social changemakers from Baltimore come together to talk about technology, swap ideas, and build new relationships." Everyone was engaged, we had some good discussions, and I had the pleasure of meeting some people doing great things in our City. Thanks again for the opportunity Kate and I look forward to seeing you all again! The presentation is below, and there are links to some resources on the "Mapping Resources" tab. If you have any questions or are interested in training or consulting, please contact me. Happy mapping!
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference & a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born.
Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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